Websites and apps for changing our behavior

| Michaela Nesvarova

Technologies are all around us and have the power to hugely influence our lives, so why not use them to make ourselves feel better? On that note, psychologists have been working with Behavioral intervention technologies (BITs) to promote well-being and even help with depression. Stephen Schueller from Northwestern University gave a lecture today at the UT to explain more about it.

Photo by: Karolina Grabowska STAFFAGE

Behavioral intervention technologies (BITs) are applications of technology, such as websites or mobile apps, that are meant to cause behavioral change in the user. Stephen Schueller, an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, is at the forefront of using BITs to increase mental health. He is currently visiting the Department of Psychology, Health & Technology at the UT and today he presented a lecture on his field of expertise.

Use current technology

BITs have been used not only in the field of Positive Psychology to promote well-being and to encourage behavior change, but as technologies rapidly change, these psychological interventions also need to continuously adapt. 'Eleven years ago these interventions were just simple emails, but the technology infrastructure is constantly changing and we have to keep that in mind. We need to meet people where they are at, for example using Facebook,' pointed out Schueller.

BITs can have many forms, such as websites for patients with PTSD or apps for changing eating habits. 'There are different uses, but all of them have something in common,' continued Schueller. 'People don´t really use them. And so we need to make better BITs. We should throw out what is no longer necessary and learn from the users.'

Apps with a single focus

Learning from users, however, doesn´t mean only asking them what they´d like. 'If you ask people what features they want an app to have, they will tell you they want everything. But then they don´t use them all,' explained Stephen Schueller. 'Typical app use serves a single purpose, has a single focus. Instead of one large intervention app, we now concentrate on thirteen individual apps, each with a simple focus like sleep hygiene, eating etc. Afterwards we can see what is popular and in the future create a recommendation system to help people choose the right app out of the thousands that are out there.'

According to Dr. Schueller, although BITs should have real people working on the background, the interventions should be as flexible as possible to fit into people´s lives: 'You build BITs for a specific person, not an aggregate human. BITs are not products, but technology enabled services.'

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